Top retail trends for 2018

Alibaba. eBay. ASOS. These are all names synonymous with the changing face of retail. And now Amazon has entered the Australian market. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Below, we share our top retail predictions for 2018 – and what they mean for you.

Focus on what makes you different

Dominique Lamb, CEO at the National Retail Association, says: “Amazon has established its extraordinary customer base by offering a wide range of goods at a low price, with speedy delivery and an incredibly convenient model. But on the flipside, I’m seeing more and more brilliant, smaller retailers offering something unique, special and a little bit out of the ordinary, and this is something Amazon could never replicate nor compete with.”

Dominique continues, “The difference is in being different – don’t try and imitate a behemoth like Amazon, but back up your offerings with exceptional, personalised customer service, and never take your foot off the pedal when it comes to reliable and speedy fulfillment and delivery.”

Streamline the omnichannel experience

While online shopping and mobile commerce are keys to retail growth, omnichannel sales are the new black. Yes, that’s right – people still want to touch and feel an item before buying it. According to Forrester Research, web-influenced sales account for 38% of all retail sales in 2016.

Dominique believes the key is to rethink the traditional in-store experience: “In-store experiences are moving toward feeling like you’re in your cool friend’s apartment, rather than a department store. Retailers need to use a carefully planned, slow-and-steady approach to using digital channels to build credibility, connection and loyalty, rather than trying to simply attract consumers’ attention to make sales.”

Provide indispensable human experiences

In the latest trend report by The Future Laboratory (one of Europe’s foremost trend forecasting consultancies), Co-founder Martin Raymond says, ‘Retailers must refocus on the things that differentiate their business – service and experience.’ After all, face-to-face interaction is something that online stores will never be able to replicate.

Research by Salesforce reveals more than 53% of consumers preferred bricks-and-mortar shopping for this reason. So it’s crucial that retailers use human engagement to their advantage. As a local business, consider how you can empower your sales team to build relationships or become brand ambassadors. Step back and think about how you create moments (in-store) that are memorable and unique.

Tap into the sharing economy

Why buy when you can borrow, for a fraction of the price? Peer-to-peer rentals (with all sorts of things on offer, from accommodation to cars to clothing) continue to be popular. For example, Australian startup Your Closet is a homegrown success story. Retailers are now thinking of ways to incorporate a ‘Rent the Runway’ style experience into their stores. Glamorous US department store Neiman Marcus is one of them – it’s launching a luxury fashion rental service in San Francisco.

Products are not the only things that customers share; they also share information. Customers seek reviews and photos via mobile apps, and expect interaction with brands instantaneously via social media. Make sure you invest time into channels that your target market may be using. Thank customers for positive reviews and address negative feedback quickly.

Personalised shopping with real-time updates and information

Big data enables businesses to analyse information like never before. Consequently, retailers are now looking at ways to personalise the customer experience – as well as provide real-time information on payments and deliveries. For example, customers now expect intelligent matching of ‘recommended products’ based on the programing of machine learning and artificial intelligence. They also expect to log into an account and see their preferences, or find out exactly where an order is at, anytime, anywhere.

‘Brandsparency’ from factory to floor

Another trend that The Future Laboratory has identified is ‘brandsparency’. Consumers want to know what was involved in the development of products they see on the shop floor. Brands are integrating ethical practices into their processes and finding ways to share them with customers.

If you are a retailer that values sustainability, tell a story and place it alongside your products on the shelf. What are they made of? Where did the materials come from? And how did the product get here?

For more on retail trends and management hear from one of the experts, Pablo Isla, CEO of Inditex (owners of Zara, Massimo Dutti and Pull&Bear), on the HBR Ideacast podcast (2017’s Top Performing CEO on Getting Product Right, 24 October 2017).

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